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Incident response protocols

Last edited: December 30, 2011

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Specific protocols may also be developed to guide police actions in their immediate response to a particular incident of violence. For example, key steps for the first officer in cases of domestic violence (with some actions relevant to all forms of violence) include:

  • Immediately separate the victim from the perpetrator. Because there is often unequal power and control between partners, it is the officer’s responsibility to ensure that the parties are out of sight and hearing of each other, while keeping officer safety a priority.

  • Ensure the safety of the victim as well as any children who are present.

  • Identify and secure any weapons that may be on hand to protect all persons present.

  • Isolate, search and secure the perpetrator (if present) and take actions to remove him from the scene.

  • Arrange medical treatment for any injured persons.

  • Ensure that women and any children at the scene are provided with appropriate support/ assistance as required, including referrals to relevant health and social service agencies.

  • Ascertain if language is a barrier and arrange to provide a translator when necessary. Children or family members should not be used as interpreters.

  • Inform the survivor of police procedures and confidentiality, and ascertain the initial facts of what has happened to identify the offence.

  • Conduct a risk assessment and identify whether or not the victim/s are at risk of future violence to ensure adequate interventions are put in place to minimize the potential for future harm.

  • Gather and preserve all potential evidence of the offence in accordance with the police service’s investigative procedures, which should include making detailed notes of the actions and communication made by the parties and a detailed occurrence report regardless of whether charges are brought or an offence is alleged.

  • Conduct an initial interview of the survivor (an in-depth interview may take place later, including a formal written statement) (see also Ethical Guidelines and issues on conducting interviews with survivors).

  • Interview all witnesses (including children) separately and collect written statements as necessary.

  • Arrange for any required secondary investigation or services (e.g. forensics, medical examination). See for example, the Zambia’s Victim Support Unit’s experience providing emergency medical services to survivors.

  • Contact victim services (if available) to assist with care and support of the woman or girl.

  • Interview the perpetrator or alleged offender (at the police station).

  • Document the investigation, evidence and statements in a formal and detailed occurrence report, regardless of whether any charges are brought, and enter information on the police service’s information system for future reference.

Adapted from: UNODC. 2010. Handbook on effective Police responses to violence against women. UNODC. Vienna.


 In addition to the above, specific steps may be required for particular forms of violence:

Sexual Assault:

  • Ensure that the crime scene is secure and cannot be disturbed by anyone (survivors, witnesses, media or police not involved in the investigation);

  • Provide the survivor with transport to a forensic medical facility or arrange for forensic examination of the suspect as requested/ needed;

  • Refer victims to coordinated sexual assault response teams or centres to enable survivors to access a broad range of care (legal, medical, and social services) and to increase the likelihood that the assault can be successfully prosecuted;

  • Provide survivors the option to speak with all-women sexual assault investigative teams or conduct interviews in dedicated rooms for survivors;

  • Promptly complete a detailed report of the sexual assault and make it available to survivors, as reports aid survivors in pursuing protection orders, civil remedies, immigration petitions, insurance benefits, and compensation claims;

  • Take actions to identify, arrest, and/or refer charges on the suspect;

  • Include other duties associated with the investigation process and case follow-up.

(Roles and Responsibilities of Police (Sexual Assault), Legislation module; Toolkit to End Violence Against Women; Model Strategies,8b; Advocates for Human Rights, Assault Response Teams)

Honour-based violence:         

  • Interview parties, witnesses, including children, separately;

  • Use an authorized interpreter and do not rely on family members, neighbors, friends or community members to act as interpreters;

  • Provide protection to the person who reported the violence;

  • Avoid serving as a mediator between the victim and the offenders.

(UN Handbook, Section 3.8.1; General Assembly Resolution, 1998, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Measures to Eliminate Violence against Women, A/Res/52/86; Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, 2010, Revised Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice as cited in Legislation Module

Forced Marriage:

  • Meet with the woman alone in a safe and private location;

  • Establish a future contact plan and code word for safe communication with the victim;

  • Provide information on available options and remedies (e.g. annulment, divorce, protection orders, harassment restraining orders; and her right to seek legal advice)

  • Advise of risks involved in travelling abroad and if travel will take place, request consent to obtain:

    • a copy of the woman’s passport, 

    • information about the family (survivor and any dependents’ names and birth date, name of father, (potential) spouse and father-in-law, overseas address, wedding date, contact information for family and close relatives, and a trusted third person in both countries), 

    • travel details and companions,

    • approximate return date, 

    • safe way of contacting the woman while abroad (information only the victim would know);          

  • The woman should be requested to contact police upon return and obtain her written consent to authorize police or other relevant state actor to act on her behalf should she fail to return as planned;

  • Conduct specialized risk assessment (including family history of forced marriage) and safety planning, including in case the survivor is seen meeting with police;

  • Identify any other crimes committed and details of threats, abuse or hostile actions;

  • Refer survivor to specialized forced marriage agencies and other relevant services;

  • For child survivors, provide a referral to child protection services; and

  • Obtain contact details of the person reporting to the police, whether a third party or the survivor as well as their photograph and other identification documents; and details of any trusted friends and relatives of the survivor or woman or girl at risk.

(Forced Marriage Unit. 2009. “Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of Forced Marriage.” Home Office. London, as cited in Duties of Police (Forced Marriage) in Legislation module).

Illustrative examples of response guidelines and protocols

Form of Violence

Global and country-specific guidelines and protocols

Violence against women generally

Global: Guidelines for Integrating Gender Perspectives into the Work of United Nations Police in Peacekeeping Missions (DPKO Department of Field Support, 2008)

Argentina: Protocol for Action of the Municipal Urban Guard (GUM) to Prevent and Respond to Situations of Violence and Abuse Towards Women in the City (CISCSA - Women and Habitat Network, 2008)

Guyana: Sexual and Domestic Violence Protocols for Police Officers (Help and Shelter, funded by UNIFEM, for the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, 2009)


Domestic violence

Global: National Law Enforcement Policy Centre, Domestic Violence Model Policy (International Association for Chiefs of Police, 2003).

Australia: Victoria Police Code of Practice for the Investigation of Family Violence (Victoria Police, 2010)

Belgium: la circulaire n°COL 3/2006 du 1er mars 2006 du Collège des Procureurs généraux près les Cours d'appel (Collège des Procureurs Généraux, 2006)

Albania: Police Protocol on Domestic Violence (USAID, 2006)

Prince Edward Island (Canada): Police Response to Domestic Violence: Woman Abuse Protocol (Justice and Public Safety, 2010)

Fuenlabrada (Spain): Protocolo de Actuación Policial ante casos de mujeres víctimas de malos tratos de la Policía Local de Fuenlabrada

Uganda: Code of Conduct for Police Officers

Sexual violence

Regional: Great Lakes Protocol on the Prevention and Suppression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children (2006) 

South Africa: National Policy Guidelines for Survivors of Sexual Offences (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, South African Police Service, 1998)

Sexual exploitation/ trafficking

Global: First Aid Kit for Use by Law Enforcement First Responders in Addressing Human Trafficking (UNODC, 2010)

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Rules on Protection of Foreign Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings (Ministry of Security, 2004) and Rules on Protection of Victims and Witnesses of ... who are Citizens of BIH (Ministry of Security, 2007)

Kosovo: Standard Operational Procedures for Victims of Trafficking in Kosovo (Ministry of Internal Affairs, 2008)

Crimes committed in the name of “honour”

Denmark: Strategy for Police Action against Honor-related Crime (National Commission of the Danish Police, 2007)

Forced Marriage

United Kingdom: Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of Forced Marriage (Forced Marriage Unit, 2009) 

For additional information on country protocols, see the Secretary-General’s Database (filter for regulations/protocols/guidelines) and Virtual Knowledge Centre Tools Database